I hit the half-year mark a couple days ago with 16 books read. It’s not exactly the achievement I was hoping for, but truth be told, rewriting and revising The Man Who Wasn’t There has filled more than a few perfectly good evenings that otherwise could have been devoted to reading.
Here are my reading highlights of the past few months:
Best books (literary): A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Our book club read it and it’s one we all loved. The story involves “Ruth”, a Japanese-American woman living on Desolation Sound in British Columbia, who finds the diary of “Nao” in a barnacle-encrusted plastic bag. One assumes the diary is debris from the tsunami. Nao documents a fascinating if grim life since her dad lost his job and the family returned to Japan from Sunnyvale, California. Resourceful and funny, Nao also is terribly depressed from the move and endures horrible and relentless bullying from her Japanese classmates. She begins plotting her suicide. As Ruth becomes more involved in Nao’s narrative and wants to help her, we become increasingly aware of the tricks played by time…and time beings.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson is an ambitious look at Britain’s post-World War II milieu from the perspective of RAF pilot Teddy Todd, whose wartime sacrifices prove to be at great odds with the man he is. Interspersing heroic scenes from his flying career with the story of a gentle and lovable man who must deal with a rapidly changing and, for the most part, unfriendly new world, Atkinson mercilessly dissects post-war British society. The book is a close companion to her 2013 novel, Life After Life, which introduced us to the Todds of Fox Corner and Teddy as the sweet younger brother. Which is the whole reason I read this book. Both are wonderful achievements and are best taken together.
Mysteries: Raven Black and Silent Voices, both by Ann Cleeves. (See my blog of two weeks ago…”In Praise of Ann Cleeves”.) These are straight-ahead, entertaining mysteries by a solidly good writer. She’s been around for a while, but I only started reading her. What a treat!
Once Upon a Lie and Lies That Bind by Maggie Barbieri. Maeve Conlon is an enigma, and a character very good at being a not always reliable witness. I love her. She’s feisty and independent and big-hearted and snarky. She owns a bakery, employs a rather frazzled friend, and deals with an ex-husband and teenage daughters. She also is very damaged soul. As a result, her behavior mystifies and even horrifies (even though we cheer for her). This series has traction and I’m hooked, although not so much on Barbieri’s Murder 101 series. Great summer reading.
Big Little Lies by Liann Moriarty. Madeleine, Celeste and Jane are mothers of five-year-olds enrolled in a beachside community grammar school outside Sydney, Australia. There’s trouble brewing at the school–what with rumors of bullying, and the Blonde Bobs trying to run everything, and the school’s annual Trivia night fast-approaching. Biting, hilariously funny, sad, with even a murder thrown in. As Mrs. Ponder remarks to her cat, Marie Antoinette, in the first chapter, “They called it a trivia night, but it sounded more like a riot to me.” I’m sure you’ll agree.
Chilling and suspenseful, not to mention literary: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. I picked up this book on “Lucky Day” at my friendly neighborhood Multnomah County Library. I had no idea…. The setting is London, 1922. Twenty-six-year old Frances Wray is running a household on the brink of collapse. Her brothers died in the Great War. Father died, leaving a once-prosperous household penniless. The maids have long since departed. And Frances’s mother is in la-la land. Frances decides their only option is to take in “paying guests”–a young couple, who take over the second floor of the drafty old house, and then take over Frances’s life. And boy howdy, what a ride!
Happy reading, all!